When we watch a play, our eyes are probably fixed on the person in the spotlight – but just who is controlling that spotlight? Enter the backstage crew.
“Plays are all about storytelling. The actors are an important part of that process, but the backstage crew is the key to make it real and exciting,” said 17-year old Julian Yeung Cheuk-lam.
The student from STFA Lee Shau Kee College was one of 15 participants of the Powerhouse Project, a programme offering young people the chance to learn what goes on behind the scenes at a theatre. The project, which is run by local education organisation Shakespeare4All, provides two months of intensive training in theatre production and management over the summer holidays.
The candidates then put their newly learned skills to the test in preparing for Shakespeare4All’s annual Gala performance on October 6 and 7, which this year was of English playwright William Shakespeare’s The Tempest. The production included a cast and orchestra of about 80 young people.
The students were responsible for props, lighting, audio, and stage management, as well as a host of other duties. The day before opening night, four of them spoke to Young Post about the hard work leading up to that moment.
“Backstage management is a crucial part of any production,” said Ho Wing-hong, 17, from Fanling Kau Yan College. “Lighting and audio help to complete the show. Without them, the audience won’t be as captivated.”
Each of the students had something to contribute behind the scenes.
“Because we all have specific roles, we have a strong sense of responsibility,” said Lam Kwok-fei, 15, from Cognitio College (Kowloon). “Without any one person, the show might not run smoothly.”
Other students, like 16-year old So Ho-yin, didn’t feel comfortable in a leadership role, but the HFTC The Church of Christ in China Hoh Fuk Tong College student proved an invaluable multi-tasker, juggling everything from planning the actors’ rehearsal schedules to delivering microphones on stage.
During the two months’ training in the run up to the performance, the students met two to three times a week, and when school started in September, they met on weekends. There were a lot of props and costumes to organise and, from time to time, the team would head to Sham Shui Po in search of fabrics they could use. At times, the scale of the operation was overwhelming.
“I wasn’t really good at visual arts, and at one point I began to question why I had joined the programme,” admitted Kwok-fei. “Making costumes requires an artistic eye, and needlework and craft skills, so I wasn’t confident at all.”
However, she persisted, and slowly got the hang of it. “Sometimes you’ve just got to try, right? Although there’s still room for improvement, I did my best and I am proud of my progress.” Kwok-fei’s new-found skills even helped make the actors’ lives easier; they kept forgetting to wear their bracelets, so Kwok-fei sewed them onto the sleeves of their costumes.
Many of the other students also discovered unknown talents.
“My grades in visual arts at school were not good at all. And because of that, I thought I didn’t have any talent in it,” said Julian. “But after getting to know more about theatre production, I came to realise that I wasn’t bad at visual arts, it’s just that my talent is better applied to a 3D, theatre environment, rather than on a piece of paper.”
In fact, Julian is now seriously considering backstage production as a career path. “This programme has inspired me to apply for a place at the Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts,” he said. When asked about what they thought was the biggest takeaway from the entire experience, the four teenagers looked at one another.
“Friends,” said Ho-yin. “I feel like I’ve got to know people from district in Hong Kong. And they all share the same passion as I do.”